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Nebraska WBB vs Illinois Preview

The Huskers look to end a three-game losing streak in Champaign

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Maryland vs Nebraska Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Husker women are a team in desperate need of a “W”. Last season, a visit to the Illini would have been just what the Dr. ordered. While Illinois isn’t pushing to be a top team in the conference, they are no longer the dreadful squad that went winless in 2017-18.

Even the inexperienced and somewhat discombobulated Huskers we’ve watched all season should have enough firepower to get past Illinois, but the experience and home court advantage of the Illini could be enough for the home team.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Illinois Fighting Illinois
Thursday, January 17, 2019, 7 p.m. (CT)
State Farm Center (15,554) - Champaign, Illinois
Live Video: BTN Plus
Live Radio: Husker Sports Network (6:45 p.m.) Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst); Lincoln-B107.3 FM; Omaha-ESPN 590 AM
Huskers.com, Huskers App, TuneIn

The Huskers will try to snap a three-game losing streak when they face the Illini on Thursday. Nebraska has played six teams that have been ranked in the top 25 this season (Drake, Miami, Louisville, Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers). The Big Ten has six teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 (No. 9 Maryland, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 20 Rutgers, No. 22 Iowa, No. 23 Minnesota and No. 25 Indiana).

Nebraska is the only team in the Big Ten with two freshmen as its top two scorers, and the Huskers are the only team in the conference with two non-starters leading the team in scoring.

Leigha Brown, a 6-1 freshman from Auburn, Ind., leads Nebraska with 10.4 points per game including 14.4 points in Big Ten play. Fellow freshman Sam Haiby, a 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minn., has added 10.2 points per game off the bench.

Nebraska’s active roster is one of the most collectively inexperienced in the Big Ten, entering the Illinois game with just 9,822 cumulative collegiate minutes. By comparison, the Fighting Illini active roster features 15,341 collegiate minutes including 13,443 played at Illinois and an additional 1,898 minutes from graduate transfer Sarah Shewan at Quinnipiac. To put that in perspective, it is like Illinois has 138 additional games of experience collectively by their active players.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-9, 2-3 Big Ten)
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - So. - C - 7.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 8.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - Jr. - G - 8.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - So. - G - 9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg

Off the Bench
32 - Leigha Brown - 6-1 - Fr. - F - 10.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 10.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg
13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg
44 - Kayla Mershon - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg
11(out) - Kristian Hudson - 5-5 - Sr. - G - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg

Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998) Third Season at Nebraska (35-42); 12th Season Overall (228-151)

Illinois Fighting Illini (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten)
35 - Alex Wittinger - 6-1 - Sr. - F - 15.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg
50 - Ali Andrews - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg
0 - J-Naya Ephraim - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
1 - Brandi Beasley - 5-7 - Jr. - G - 10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg
5 - Cierra Rice - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 7.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg

Off the Bench
3 - Arieal Scott - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg
30 - Courtney Joens - 5-10 - Jr. - G - 6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
31 - Sarah Shewan - 6-2 - Sr. - G - 5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
23 - Jaelyne Kirkpatrick - 5-7 - Sr. - G - 4.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg
4 - Mackenzie Blazek - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
2 - Lyric Robins - 5-11 - So. - F - 0.7 ppg, 0.4 rpg

Head Coach: Nancy Fahey (Wisconsin, 1981) Second Season at Illinois (18-29); 33rd Season Overall (755-162)

Scouting The Illinois Fighting Illini

The Fighting Illini are 7-3 at home this season but they have dropped three straight games on their home court, including a 71-60 loss to Rutgers on Jan. 9. Illinois opened conference play with an 85-83 over. Illinois snapped a 29-game Big Ten losing streak with a 66-62 win over then No. 12 Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Jan. 6. It marked Coach Nancy Fahey’s first Big Ten win in her second season at Illinois. Last season, Fahey’s Illini went 9-22 overall, including 0-16 in Big Ten play before losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Illinois is led by one of the Big Ten’s best forwards in Alex Wittinger. The 6-1 senior from Delano, Minn., is averaging 15.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Wittinger, who produced a triple-double last season, owns 30 career double-doubles.

Beasley is the only other Illinois player averaging double figures, producing 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and team bests of 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The 5-9 point guard has started 76 games over the past three seasons, including all 16 alongside Wittinger and Rice this season.

Rice, a 5-9 redshirt junior guard, has managed 7.9 points and 3.7 rebounds this season. She has made 44 starts in her collegiate career.

A third junior, 6-2 forward Ali Andrews, has made 13 starts this season and 43 in her career. She is averaging 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting an outstanding 44.9 percent (22-49) from three-point range.

Fellow junior Courtney Joens has added nine starts this year while managing 6.8 points and 3.3 boards. Joens is also a solid long-range shooter, knocking down 35.4 percent (17-48) of her threes.

Freshmen J-Naya Ephraim (4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Arieal Scott (8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and Mackenzie Blazek (3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) also have earned starts and significant playing time this year. Ephraim and Blazek have each made a trio of Big Ten starts.

For the season, Illinois is averaging 71.1 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field, including 30.8 percent from three-point range. The Illini have hit 67 percent of their free throws and own a plus-1.2 team rebound margin. They carry a minus-0.6 turnover margin.

In five Big Ten games, Illinois is minus-8.2 rebounds per game on the boards and minus-1.0 in turnover margin. The Illini are shooting just 37.8 percent from the field and averaging just 60.4 points in league play.

Nebraska vs. Illinois Series History

Nebraska owns a 12-5 edge in the all-time series with Illinois.